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Unlocking the Potential: Understanding the K Factor for Rolled Plates

When it comes to sheet metal fabrication, precision is paramount. The K factor for rolled plates plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the final product meets the desired specifications.

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Understanding the K Factor

The K factor, also known as the neutral axis factor or bend allowance factor, is a crucial parameter in sheet metal fabrication. It represents the ratio of the location of the neutral axis to the material thickness during a bend. This factor accounts for material behavior during deformation and is essential for achieving accurate and consistent bends.

What is the K-Factor and formula?

What is the K-Factor and formula?

The K-factor in sheet metal bending plays a crucial role, representing the ratio between the metal thickness and the neutral axis, an invisible line within the material. As metal bends, the inside compresses while the outside stretches, causing thinning in the middle, akin to a stretched rubber band. This neutral axis shifts towards the inside of the bend, influencing how much the metal compresses and expands. Understanding the K-factor, alongside tooling and bend angles, is vital for achieving accurate flange lengths, as they collectively impact the part’s expansion and compression during bending. The K-factor formula, K=(t/MT), where t is the centerline thickness in the bend and MT is the material thickness, quantifies this relationship, aiding in calculating the Bend Allowance required for precise fabrication.

Common Sheet Metal Materials and Their K Factors

MaterialK Factor
Mild Steel0.33
Stainless Steel0.33

Table 1 shows the typical K factors for various sheet metal materials. These values are a general guideline and may vary slightly depending on specific material properties.

Generic K-factor Chart

Generic K-factor Chart
This generic k-factor chart, based on information from Machinery’s Handbook, gives you average k-factor values for a variety of applications. The term “thickness” refers to the material thickness. A k-factor average of 0.4468 is used for most bending applications. PDF

The Importance of K Factor in Rolled Plate Fabrication

  1. Accurate Bending: Understanding the K factor is essential for precise bending operations. It helps fabricators determine the exact length of the flat pattern required for a specific bend angle and radius.
  2. Minimizing Material Waste: By calculating the K factor correctly, manufacturers can reduce material waste, ultimately saving costs and resources.
  3. Consistency: Consistent K factor application ensures that bends are uniform across multiple parts, maintaining quality and aesthetics.

K-Factor Formula


T = Centerline thickness in bend

MT = Material Thickness

The K-factor serves as a critical determinant in sheet metal fabrication, particularly in calculating the Bend Allowance—a crucial aspect governing material stretch during bending processes. Defined as the ratio between the centerline thickness (t) at the midpoint of the bend and the starting material thickness (MT), the K-factor is expressed as K = (t/MT). Its significance lies in accurately predicting the shift of the neutral axis—a virtual line within the material—during bending. For instance, consider a scenario with a 1-millimeter material thickness where the neutral axis shifts from 0.5 mm in the flat state to 0.446 mm post-bend, with this shift denoted as ‘t’. The K-factor essentially acts as a multiplier providing precise insights into this relocated neutral axis. By leveraging this ratio, fabricators can effectively anticipate the bend allowance for a diverse range of bending angles, enhancing their ability to design and produce precise sheet metal components.

However, while the K-factor is instrumental in bend allowance calculations, it does have limitations. Notably, it fails to account for the internal stresses and strains that develop within the bent material during the bending process. Moreover, deriving the K-factor is influenced by various factors including the type of tooling used, the material’s tensile and yield strength, and the specific forming method employed (such as air forming, bottoming, or coining). Consequently, its application necessitates careful consideration of these variables to ensure accurate predictions and optimal fabrication outcomes.

Despite its limitations, the K-factor remains a cornerstone in modern sheet metal fabrication, offering a more accurate and versatile alternative to traditional bend calculation charts. By transcending the constraints of outdated methods, the K-factor enables fabricators to achieve greater precision and efficiency in their bending operations. Ultimately, its role extends beyond mere calculation—it represents a fundamental understanding of the intricate dynamics at play during sheet metal bending, empowering fabricators to navigate these complexities with confidence and expertise.

How to Calculating the K-Factor: 7 Steps

Calculating the K-Factor for sheet metal bending involves a practical approach due to its dependency on the metal’s properties and thickness. Typically ranging between 0 and 0.5, the K-Factor cannot be accurately determined without bending a sample piece and deducing the Bend Allowance. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. Prepare Sample Blanks: Start by preparing sample blanks of equal and known sizes. These blanks should be at least a foot long to ensure even bending and a few inches deep to allow them to sit against the back stops. For instance, consider a sample piece of 14-gauge material, 4 inches wide, and 12 inches long.
  2. Perform Bending: Set up the press brake with the desired tooling for the metal thickness being tested. Bend each sample piece at a 90° angle, typically at the center of the piece.
  3. Measure Flange Lengths: After bending, carefully measure the flange lengths of each sample piece. Record these measurements and calculate the average flange length from the samples.
  4. Determine Bend Radius: Measure the inside radius formed during bending. While radius gauges can provide a close measurement, for precision, an optical comparator is recommended. For our example, the inside radius is measured at 0.105 inches.
  5. Calculate Bend Allowance: Determine the leg length by subtracting the material thickness and inside radius from the average flange length. This equation works specifically for 90° bends. For our example, the leg length is calculated as 2.073 – 0.105 – 0.075 = 1.893 inches.
  6. Find Bend Allowance: Subtract twice the leg length from the initial length to determine the Bend Allowance. For our example, the Bend Allowance is calculated as 4 – (1.893 * 2) = 0.214 inches
  7. Calculate K-Factor: Finally, divide the centerline thickness at the bend’s midpoint (t) by the starting material thickness (MT). The result is the K-Factor, providing insight into the amount of material stretch during the bending process.


Understanding the K factor for rolled plates is essential for achieving precise bends in sheet metal fabrication. By calculating the K factor accurately, fabricators can minimize material waste, ensure consistency in production, and produce high-quality finished products. Remember that while the empirical formula provides a good starting point, real-world applications may require adjustments based on specific material properties and equipment used. Mastering the K factor is a valuable skill for any sheet metal fabricator, enabling them to unlock the full potential of their craft.